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Remote patch management: How to set it up and best practices

Updating your laptop or restarting a program to install new patches is easy to do manually at home. But when you’re managing countless pieces of equipment in addition to a remote workforce of dozens or more people who each have a laptop and multiple programs running on it, updating each item manually is not an option. Especially if a lot of your workforce works remotely.

Given this complexity and how insignificant patches seem in the grand scheme of security measures, it’s easy not to prioritize this task.

However, the stakes are high when you hear that, come 2025, global cybercrime costs are expected to reach $10.5 trillion. Therefore, it’s time to up your patching game.

Let’s examine how to set up a remote patch management process and best practices for doing so.

What is patch management?

Patch management is the process of applying fixes issued by OS, application, or network equipment vendors to address security issues that crop up after their software’s release. These patches are often necessary to correct software errors (also referred to as “vulnerabilities” or “bugs”).

Patch management is important because it fixes vulnerabilities in your software and applications that are susceptible to cyber threats. Thus helping your organization reduce its security risk and ensuring you adhere to certain compliance standards.

How to set up a remote patch management process

Before you hit “update” across all laptops, there are a few steps you need to take to implement a successful remote patch management strategy that continuously works with you to identify and update software and hardware.

1. Audit your infrastructure

To reduce risk, you need to have good visibility into your environment. That’s why the first step of your patch management strategy involves assessing all your inventory and network connections.

Make a list that identifies every application, hardware, and software component running on your network.

Once you know what devices are on your network, you can begin assessing any potential risks.

2. Conduct a risk assessment

You, unfortunately can't fix every security loophole the moment it pops up due to time and resource constraints. A risk assessment enables you to identify high-priority items and software. This means you can prioritize and focus on addressing the most critical vulnerabilities first to make our security efforts more practical and impactful.

3. Outline a patch management policy

Once priorities have been established based on the critical status of all the devices analyzed, it is time to outline a patch management policy that will determine how and when security patches should be deployed.

For example, will you automate all software patches to be implemented every Saturday? Will you review your risk assessment monthly or quarterly? Outline a plan of action so you don’t need to continuously think about whether a task has been done.

4. Test patches before deploying them across all systems

Installing patches without testing them first can lead to disastrous results. If patches don’t install properly or any updates affect applications running on the machine, you could face severe downtime.

A lab environment that replicates your real-world production environment enables you to safely test your patches, avoiding complications that could impact your business.

Once small tests prove successful, then schedule a system-wide patch deployment rollout. Do so during non-critical hours and times when devices are not in use to minimize disruptions and rollbacks.

5. Continuously monitor systems and updates

After any update, keep an eye on your systems and networks for any changes or impacted systems. Doing so limits downtime and enables you to catch errors or other security vulnerabilities due to patches before these become a system-wide problem.

Remote patch management best practices

Timely patching is vital to prevent data breaches in your organization. Here are a few best practices you can adopt that will simplify and expedite your ability to patch remote employees.

Implement patch management tools to help you monitor and patch remote devices

If you need to monitor and manage more than a dozen devices, software, and hardware spread across the world, an Excel sheet won’t cut it. Luckily there is patch management software that will help you monitor the status of all your devices and new system updates. These include:

  • IBM BigFix: This is an endpoint management platform that automates endpoint patching and management. It also provides real-time visibility and enforcement to ensure that all endpoints are properly patched, configured, and secured
  • Microsoft SCCM: Microsoft’s System Center Configuration Manager is geared towards managing Windows operating systems. It is a comprehensive solution for assessing, deploying, and updating Windows devices.
  • Infrastructure orchestration tools: Tools like Ansible, Puppet, and Chef will automate the process of applying patches and ensuring consistency in configurations across servers and devices including cloud environments.

Automate patch management

Checking for new patches, coordinating with remote teams, testing and installing those patches, all while ensuring user productivity doesn't take a dip, is a lot.

However, did you know that the average time it takes to patch a critical vulnerability is 16 days? One of the biggest reasons for this is relying on manual processes. The longer unpatched vulnerabilities are left untouched, the more your company is at risk of security breaches.

Automating patch management to ensure regular patching should be the first best practice implemented in your organization for better patch compliance.

Enforce software installations and updates

A challenge with remote patching is ensuring that the updates are actually applied in a timely matter and that employees are not delaying or ignoring critical security patches. You need to be able to enforce updates so remote devices remain secure.

So although it’s important to enable remote employees to delay big updates so it doesn’t interrupt their workflow, implement a set number of times people can delay installations. After that, updates will automatically be installed.

Prioritize critical updates

Prioritize the installation of critical updates in remote endpoints and suspend any other rollups or optional updates to ensure that the endpoints have been patched.

Doing so is a must to ensure patch compliance across the network and for effective patch management.

Therefore, all patches in your risk assessment marked as “Critical” or “Important” should be tested and deployed first.

Implement a patch management process to protect your remote workforce and confidential data

As cybersecurity threats become more prevalent, an effective patch management strategy is vital to fix any vulnerabilities in your firmware or software. Especially when the majority of your workforce works remotely. In addition to helping you stay secure and compliant with certain protocols, patch management ensures that all your application keeps pace with market trends.

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